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Thoughts on LeMahieu, pitching, and more as snow falls in the New York area

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It’s been a while since any of us has shared a thoughts post, hasn’t it? Not like there’s been much going on in the Yankees’ universe, anyway. We have heard a bit more from the team in the media of late, whether it’s appearances on the YES Network hot stove show or elsewhere. And now that I’ve finished shoveling (twice already), I have some thoughts on what we’ve heard from in recent days, so let’s get to it.

On the latest with DJ LeMahieu. By now you’ve surely seen the reports that the Yankees and DJ LeMahieu are $25 million apart in contract negotiations. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But really, it’s not. The difference here really is a matter of years, not money. Per the initial NJ.com report, LeMahieu’s camp is seeking $100 million over five seasons, whereas the Yankees prefer four years for $75 million. We’re really talking about one year difference in term and $1.25 million in average annual value.

LeMahieu turns 33 in July and the Yankees’ preference is to have his contract end sooner. That’s always sensible with a player entering his mid-to-late thirties. Meanwhile, LeMahieu wants to scratch out as much as he can since this likely is his final chance to cash in. Also sensible! But perhaps most importantly in this negotiation, both sides have clearly signaled a desire to reunite. At some point, I imagine the Yankees and LeMahieu will compromise on some sort of option for that fifth year.

Now, I must admit all of this admiration and negotiation through the media has grown a little tiring for me. Just get a deal done, already. A blogger needs some news to keep content going, you know.

Even considering my own impatience, I am a little confused about the Yankees unwillingness to do anything until the LeMahieu situation is resolved. The Yankees have something like $30 million of space below the first luxury tax threshold and it’s not like LeMahieu is going to eat up all of that. Sure, he’ll take up a good chunk, but there should still be something like $10 million to play with. I get that the front office isn’t going to turn and sign say, Marcus Semien, since that would eliminate them from retaining LeMahieu. But what about some position player depth? Another relief arm? I don’t know. Again, I’m desperate for something.

On Brian Cashman’s confidence in the arms at hand. On YES the other day, Cashman was asked about his intent to bolster the team’s starting rotation. His response: “I think it’s best served to [add to the rotation], but at worst, you could certainly daydream just to believe that you might actually have everything that you need there.”

Nothing in that statement is particularly eye opening, though I think the latter portion caught some folks off guard. And I get it, the rotation after Gerrit Cole is consists of a number of mostly unproven young pitchers. Granted, he’s not going to trash his internal options publicly, but at the same time, he has good reason to daydream about the likes of Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt (among other young pitchers) and the midseason return of Luis Severino.

In particular, keep in mind that the Yankees’ pitching development has undergone drastic turnover over the past year and a half. The team brought in Sam Briend from Driveline Baseball last summer, hired Desi Druschel, and replaced Larry Rothschild with Matt Blake. These two moves appear to be significant steps toward the models that Houston and Cleveland have been so successful with.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Yankees are suddenly going to turn guys like Michael King or Miguel Yajure into the next Shane Bieber. But there does appear to be some evidence that newly implemented philosophies are helping already. I’ve touched on the work García did at the Alternate Site before his callup. I thought that Jordan Montgomery pitched better than the results indicated. Perhaps most revealing — Schmidt spoke extensively of how closely he worked with Briend and Druschel in 2020 to improve:

Based on what Schmidt said, it really feels like the Yankees approach to pitching development has taken a big leap forward. With that in mind, it’s a lot easier to see why Cashman is excited about the options within.

Optimism aside, it’s not like Cashman is opposed to improving the rotation with an external option anyway. That he believes it’s “best served” to bring in starter(s) is logical. As the old adage goes, you can never have enough pitching. And as Randy said on the podcast, it really feels like a trade for a starter with upside will come at some point.

On Domingo Germán’s return. Alright, enough praise for the Yankees’ pitching development and internal options for the rotation. Domingo Germán, who’s currently struggling in LIDOM, appears to have been forgiven by the organization.

This comes a couple of months after Hal Steinbrenner indicated that the 28 year-old pitcher would have to “prove” he turned his life around and realize the gravity of his actions. Well, I’d really like to see the proof. Telling us that there was a “very personal” and “important” conversation doesn’t say anything. But, I guess I’m a fool for thinking we’d get more than platitudes considering the way the organization handled acquiring Aroldis Chapman twice. It sure looks like Germán will be a rotation candidate next season.

On minor league deals. The Yankees signed a few players over the past week: Adam Warren, Matthew Bowman, and Andrew Velazquez. I’ll touch on each of them here briefly.

We’re all very familiar with Warren, of course. The Yankees actually signed him in advance of the 2020 season while rehabbing Tommy John surgery, but released him with the expectation of re-signing him this winter. As expected, that happened this week when Warren signed a minor league contract for 2021. Wouldn’t shock me one bit to see him in the Opening Day bullpen. He’s been at his best in pinstripes; Warren owns a 3.18 ERA with the Yankees in 407 innings, but a career ERA of 3.53 mainly due to rough stints in Chicago and San Diego.

Bowman, a 29 year-old righty reliever, got a two-year minor league deal. He’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and probably won’t pitch this year. Bowman doesn’t have big stuff but has put together a few solid seasons of middle relief work for Cincinnati and St. Louis. He’s got a lifetime 4.02 ERA and 3.67 FIP in 181 1/3 innings, though those numbers are a bit skewed by a rough 2018 (6.26 ERA in 23 innings).

Velazquez, a 26 year-old infielder, is a local product from the Bronx who attended Fordham Prep. He’s bounced around since the Diamondbacks drafted him in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Baltimore have all given him opportunities, but Velazquez has really struggled to hit. He’s got a .156/.257/.219 (33 wRC+) batting line in 269 big league plate appearances. He’s mostly played shortstop though he can also handle second, third, and the outfield. Velazquez looks more like Triple-A filler to me considering that the Yanks already have Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada on the 40-man roster.

On the team’s interest in Ryne Stanek. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reported that the Yankees are interested in hard throwing reliever Ryne Stanek. The Marlins non-tendered him a couple of weeks ago. Ever since Miami acquired Stanek as part of the trade that sent Nick Anderson to the Rays (ugh!), Stanek has been bad. In 31 1/3 post-trade innings, Stanek had an ugly 6.03 ERA, 6.21 FIP, and 18.4 percent walk rate. Given that poor performance, it’s almost certain the Yankees would only give him a minor league deal. Still, there’s reason to like Stanek.

Stanek tossed a pretty effective 122 innings for the Rays in 2018 and 2019 combined. He posted a 3.17 ERA and 3.64 FIP buoyed by a strong strikeout rate (28.9 percent) and tolerable control (9.6 percent walk rate). The former first round pick historically has had a big time fastball with high spin rates too. However, Stanek saw his fastball velocity drop this season. After averaging 97.5 MPH in 2019, it fell to 95.8 in 2020. His slider and splitter also declined in terms of movement and spin.

Anyway, this seems like a pretty good buy-low opportunity if he’d come on a minor league deal. Low risk, high reward.

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6 Comments

  1. Cashman saying “you could certainly daydream just to believe that you might actually have everything that you need there” is baffling. Cashman’s job is to make things a reality, not to dream about them. The Yanks have one of the best lineups in baseball yet it looks like it will be wasted again with another subpar rotation. I’m OK with Cole at #1, Tanaka at #4 and JoMo at #5, but will Deivi pitch well enough to be a #3? When Sevy comes back will he be good enough to be a #2? Who will be the #2 until he gets back? And Clark Schmidt — I like him, but he has not yet demonstrated sustained success in the bigs to be counted on. The rotation clearly needs a #2 pitcher behind Cole, Cashman be damned.

    • Mungo

      It’s not baffling. It’s Cashman-speak. He doesn’t believe it, but that’s the public comments he’ll make as he doesn’t want anyone, be it a free agent or a team he’s negotiating with, to think he’s desperate. He maintains a calm exterior. Reality is he knows he needs to add in a couple of arms and ultimately he will. What quality level is the real question.

  2. Kalman Heller

    I would expect something like 5 years at 90M with 5th year being team option with a buyout.

    • MikeD

      I suspect the Yankees will end up going to a 5th year, but in the form you mention–team option and buyout. The Yankees are playing a game here with the luxury tax, which means the AAV is the contract is key. Would they be better off biting the bullet, guaranteeing a 5th year, but with the benefit of a lower AAV?

      For whatever it’s worth (nothing), I’ve often compared LeMahieu to Derek Jeter in their hitting approaches. Line drives, opposite field, but neither try to do too much at the plate, not expanding the strike zone, but also not focused on getting a walk to the point where they’re not aggressive enough on pitches in the zone. Some hitters become passive. Gleyber ran across that at points in 2020. Those type of hitters, especially in today’s game, should age better. If the Yankees are forced into a 5th year, either guaranteed or with a team option, I suspect he’ll still be an effective hitter in his age-36 season. Jeter remained effective at the plate through his age-38 season, and I’m not unconvinced he’d have been fine again at 39 if not for the ankle injury and lost season.

      It’s to the Yankees advantage, and Yankee fans, for LeMahieu to return, but to do so at the lowest AAV. It will impact other moves the Yankees need to make. I’m convinced their intent is to get under the first luxury tax threshold. It’s not just words.

  3. DanGer

    Change in philosophy is great and all but that’s 100% not a competitive rotation.

    Even if everyone pitches to best case, there will be innings limits, injuries, learning setbacks etc.

    Cole threw 73 IP in 2020.

    Monty, Garcia, King, German, Clarke, & Sevy combined for 110.4 IP in 2020. And not a particularly good 110.4 IP at that.

    I’ll be shocked if there’s not at least one Paxton-esque trade b/t now and Opening Day. Maybe Martinez (STL) or Musgrove (PIT)? Or one of the guys from DET – Fulmer, Boyd, Turnbull?

  4. DZB

    I wonder if they will come to an agreement for as DJ that Soto of splits the difference, benefiting him with more money and the Yankees with a lower AAV. Like five years at $90m or something like that. That’s $18m a year instead of 20. Maybe not a big enough drop in AAV. Maybe even five for $85m to get it down to$17m a year. He banks more money, the team gets a little extra flexibility. Possibly win win

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